Feature Articles

POETRY CAN BE HARD ON THE POCKET by J Woods

(Poetry Ireland News, November/December 2003)

Recently the Southside People, the Dublin free paper, was in touch with Poetry Ireland concerning an article a member of staff was researching called 'Big Business, Bad Poetry'. The journalist had been receiving a lot of enquiries from people who'd been invited to participate in poetry conferences in America which promised, once you'd paid your flight, accommodation and conference fee, cash prizes for your poetry. And of course at the conference you'd have the chance to meet a roster of distinguished poets, writers and publishers, none of which this particular reader has ever heard of.

To most people, this has the immediate ring of a scam to it, but for some people it's seen as an opportunity to have their work published and appreciated regardless. This is where Big Business, Bad Poetry comes into the equation. There is money to be made by duping people with false promises and expectations, so much so that I'm unwilling to mention who the main perpetrators are: I'm sure their budget is bigger than Poetry Ireland's, and that they're no strangers to protecting their own financial interests.

The scam starts either on the Internet or is sometimes advertised in newspapers, presumably carried unwittingly by the paper in question. You are asked to submit a selection of poetry, and the response is always the same: the publishers would only love to publish your poem 'on the basis of your unique talent and incomparable vision', or words to that effect. You are then invited to buy a deluxe 'coffee-table edition' (no irony there) that will set you back about €80 - and while you're at it, why not buy a few for friends and family as gifts! The book arrives, crammed with up to ten poems per page in a minuscule font. You're also pompously told that the book will be housed in the Library of Congress in Washington, DC; they neglect to say, alongside every other book published in the USA with an ISBN number. As a final accolade, you are invited to register to attend one of their conferences abroad for a mere €500 or thereabouts.

In Poetry Ireland we sometimes get calls from people who have been 'invited' to just this kind of prestigious get-together. It's often the first time they've heard about Poetry Ireland, and they call in the hope we will fund their flight. Unfortunately, we don't fund flights. We then explain how to go about getting poems published and refer them to our website, journals, etc. Every year we get a number of these calls, so far I haven't heard from anyone who has gone to one of these conferences but suspect that most people get cold feet by the time they've forked out a couple of hundred euro for books. The money might be better spent on poetry collections and journals, or indeed on stamps for SAEs for the return of submitted poems.

In a Poetry Ireland newsletter all this might sound like preaching to the converted, but I'd ask anybody out there involved in workshops and teaching to spread the word and warn people about publishing scams. These scams prey on aspiring writers young and old, most often those just starting out. The worst of it is, the experience may disillusion them altogether.

As a test case, the staff of the Southside People came up with the following ditty, entitled 'Stepaside', after exactly two minutes of soul-searching. They submitted it under an assumed name to a particular Internet-based organisation which is one of the worst offenders as regards this type of scam:

Worlds like rain
on leaves drip
from your lips,
They puddle at
my feet to join
my tears.
Autumn has
arrived and you
Are leaving me
in Stepaside.

By no means the worst poem ever written, but surely undeserving of the extravagant praise it received: the writer needless to say should be 'genuinely proud of this accomplishment', not to mention the poet's 'unique talent and artistic vision'. Sure enough, an invitation was extended to attend an international convention in Orlando, Florida. And for a mere €77.45 (including €22.50 for the inclusion of biographical details), the poem would be included in the next unmissable anthology.

If you want to get poems published the guidelines are simple and are available on our website under Getting Published: www.poetryireland.ie/resources/gettingpublished.html

Send out four or five poems at a time to journals where you like the work you've read. And get a poem published before the book! Too often we hear from people who've written a book of poems and want information about publishers, without ever having published a single poem. Asking an editor to read a book of unpublished poems is akin to asking a record producer to produce a deluxe 6-CD set when you've never had a song on the radio. And finally, remember your best friend might not be the best judge of your work. Happy reading and writing!

Joseph Woods is Director of Poetry Ireland

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